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U.S. Supreme Court Says States are Immune to Claims for Damages in Copyright Infringement Suits

General / Apr 01, 2020

Article written by Ariel Amir

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that North Carolina, and other states in the U.S., are generally immune from copyright infringement suits that seek compensatory damages unless Congress enacts appropriate legislation.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Frederick Allen, a photographer hired to document the efforts to recover the shipwreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge found off the North Carolina coast. When North Carolina published some of Allen’s videos and photos online, Allen sued for copyright infringement. North Carolina moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground of state sovereign immunity. The plaintiff countered that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA) eliminated states’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement cases.

The Supreme Court held that under the Constitution of the United States, Congress’s legislative power lacks authority to abrogate the States’ immunity from copyright infringement suits in the CRCA unless certain conditions are met.

While the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution allows Congress to abrogate the states immunity, Congress must demonstrate proportionality between the injury to be remedied and the means adopted to that end. The Supreme Court found that the CRCA fails to demonstrate such proportionality. The Court called on Congress to promote proportional legislation that will provide remedies to copyright owners against state infringements.

CLICK HERE to read the Supreme Court’s Decision in Allen v. Governor of North Carolina.